Use Words, Plant Flowers, Drive Nails

Translations, Shadows and Knowing

I’ve been participating in “Tao Tuesdays” on Amy Putkonen’s blog site. There, a person can share their thoughts and reflections of the chapters of the Tao Te Ching. The chapters, of course, have all been translated and there are a ton of these translations. This whole translation thing has been bugging me ever since I started on Tao Tuesdays.

Here’s the thing. If you understand, you attain – there is no particular “how.” The Tao Te Ching appeared as a “how” with a metaphysical viewpoint. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and others delivered an action plan, another cultural matrix of understanding, and gave their message to the world. They gave us moral, ethical, social, legalistic systems – paths – rooted in understanding, attained.

In the beginnings of every enduring “how,” pure principle is delivered by a messenger who has attained, who understands. The messenger speaks in words, in shadows. Interpreters of the message then begin to infuse their own personal insights and cultural biases, imposing overlays of perspective on the content of the message.

This is how forms – religions – are created. When the “divine ground,” the source of all messengers and religions, is personalized and trimmed to fit a context it provides a matrix of understanding with useful reference points which direct the local seeker back to the universal source, to understanding.

Lao Tze made a first shadow when he spoke of the Tao with words. Translators followed with shadows of shadows. And now here am I, using words to form what seems to be a shadow of a shadow of a first shadow.

Yet always we are standing on the divine ground, living in the Tao. It is in us, all around us, it connects each to all and all to each. We are all originators of first shadows.

In William Gibson’s book Count Zero there is a short passage that has always stuck with me ever since I read it. In it, two people are talking about a new religion that has arisen which is based on elaborate, mythological metaphors. The religion has formed in order to understand and navigate the essence of a new virtual universe. The two people are speaking about a third individual and how he regards the new religion:

“But he doesn’t seem to trust that stuff at all.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lucas said… “He’s always been close to the spirit of the thing.”

Rumi I found the Divine within my heartWe are all close to the spirit of the thing. We are the spirit of the thing. We are all rooted in understanding. And but for the shadows we make and see, we have attained.

Words can get in the way a lot. Yet we use them to initiate and maintain contact more often than any other medium.

Words, like oracles, often present more riddle than answer. They point us in a general direction, tickling and awakening us toward a new awareness of possibility, opening a door, presenting a simple path to a border crossing. They direct us to a point of departure into rich, vast, wordless reaches, to things previously un­known or unseen, or seen only as through a glass, darkly.

Spiritual teaching systems employ words, a collection of bits and pieces—stories, simple questions—to conduct the separated seeker to knowing. It seems absolutely sensible that, considering the connectedness of all, a collection of small bits and pieces is nothing of the sort. The light comes as our belief in separate parts and fragments dissolves before our eyes. Separate parts begin to connect and coalesce into a wholeness that reflects the reality of being.

Use words, plant flowers, drive nails. 

Stutter, bruise your heel, hit your thumb.

Speak, cultivate beauty, build and create.

Be silent, behold beauty and creation.

Use words, plant flowers, drive nails.

2 Responses to Use Words, Plant Flowers, Drive Nails

  1. Louis W. says:

    I know you already know this, but it is worth repeating.

    Words represent objects and concepts. They are not themselves the objects or concepts any more than a map is the mountains, streams, roads and towns it shows. Nevertheless, if you go for a long backpacking trek into the wilderness it is convenient to have a map and a compass.

    A person does not “attain” – as you have said – by reading or listening to the words of others. In fact those very words are used to create numerous stories of those who attain through direct experience.

    – Buddha held up a flower and his disciple reached what was termed “full attainment” in a flash, without the crutch f reasoning.

    – Carlos Castaneda tells that don Juan would strike him between the shoulder blades to launch him into a mystical state.

    – Yoginanda related the realization of oneness that came to him after his master tapped the center of his chest.

    – Zen students have attained satori by such diverse means as considering a koan, cleaning an outhouse or being hit over the head by a master’s staff.

    In each case, the “sudden” attainment was experienced after the student had studied the map of words and teachings. The words helped them find a way to step out of the shadows and into the light.

    • bobgriffith says:

      After shadows, after words and teaching and maps and steps, light? Of course.

      There has always been light. Was the flower, the touch, the tap, the strike, a word? Did the koan lead to more words? Or in each moment did the end of words appear, and words end, and steps disappear? Was that moment always there as words and steps approached it? The transcendental moment, the burst of light, the sudden union with all and cessation of “each” is… Well, it just is. Wordless.

      Words have their place, everything has a place. Today “I” will be in many places marked by words and steps and thoughts and feelings. Today I will be in only one place where all these many places are. I will speak and walk and think and feel locally. I will be human, earthly, mundane. And I will be doing it all in places where heaven is. I was always there. On my path there are words. On my path doing and being never end, and there is no paradox there.

      Here are some words I like:

      “And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I saw that this is chasing after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.”
      Ecclesiastes 1: 17-18

      “When I applied my mind to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth… then I saw… that no one can find out what is happening under the sun. However much they may toil in seeking, they will not find it out; even though those who are wise claim to know, they cannot find it out.”
      Ecclesiastes 8:16

      “The poets down here, don’t write nothing at all,
      They just stand back and let it all be.”
      Bruce Springsteen, 1975

      ”When you identify with your desires, you will observe the manifestations of your life.
      (There you will find)… the deepest secrets arising from the dark unknown, the Doorway to the Mysteries of Life.
      Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1

      “Here I am.”
      “So glad you are.”
      Harmoniums in the Caves of Mercury, Kurt Vonnegut, 1959

      “Things just are. Things just be. Let’s get out there in it. You want to go camping?”
      Bob, a couple of days ago.

      She said yes, and we’re off! I’ll be back.

      The word that chases catches what it pursues. The seeker finds. And like Kurt Vonnegut said, “So it goes.”

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